Life-Writing in Early Modern England


Mon 10am-12pm


A. Walkden

Course Description

An introduction to the varied forms and practices of early modern life-writing, including diaries, familiar letters, spiritual autobiographies, conversion narratives, martyr stories, personal essays, financial account books, and spousal memoirs. Our primary aim will be to examine the multiple, sometimes conflicting, possibilities for writing a life, whether one’s own or another’s, during a period of profound and often violent religious and political change. Our secondary aim will be to engage some of the experimental and methodological approaches by which novelists, critics, and historians, from Virginia Woolf to Saidiya Hartman, have sought to narrate untold life stories in ways that confront and creatively surmount the opacities of the archive or the historical record. Together we will consider how these approaches might limit or expand our own efforts to understand, and represent, how early modern individuals lived and wrote about their lives. 

Course Reading List

Primary readings may include: George Cavendish, The Life of Cardinal Wolsey; William Baldwin, A Mirror for Magistrates; John Foxe, Acts and Monuments; John Florio (trans.) The Essayes of Montaigne; the letters and diary of Lady Anne Clifford; Lucy Hutchinson, The Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson; John Aubrey, Brief Lives; Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae; the diary of Samuel Pepys; and Aphra Behn, Oroonoko. Creative, critical, and theoretical readings may include work by John Dryden, Saidiya Hartman Hermonie Lee, Hilary Mantel, Lena Orlin, Christina Sharpe, Simonie Smith and Julia Watson, Adam Smyth, and Virginia Woolf.

Course Method of Evaluation and Course Requirements

  • Generous participation (10%)
  • Weekly discussion posts (20%)
  • Short experimental essay (20%)
  • Research essay to be developed in stages: proposal, critical review, circulated partial draft, peer review workshop, and final version (50%)

Term: S-TERM (January 2023 to April 2023)
Date/Time: Monday / 10:00 am to 12:00 pm
Location: Room JHB 718 (Jackman Humanities Building, 170 St. George Street)
Delivery: In-Person